Books have me in a Bind; Charge!

I’m supposed to be packing right now as we continue our move into town. We’re not in a tremendous rush and one of our goals is downsizing a bit. And like all healthy relationships, my wife and I are standing on opposite sides of the Rubicon pondering exactly what each other means by the vagueness of the English language.


There are a lot of things I’m willing to sell, recycle, donate, or pitch. Ok…maybe not a lot of things, but I think enough to satisfy her quest to for an uncluttered house and subsequently, I imagine, an uncluttered mind. There are some bobbleheads from the 1980’s, a couple of broken chess clocks, a trophy or two, a lamp that hasn’t worked in 20 years, piles of VHS tapes, an ugly lamp that sadly still works, some baseball medals that players never picked up, and a bunch of old software disks that probably only worked on a 386 I owned in 1985. All this can go.

But the books. Oh, the books. Lisa has declared her desire that I not bring the over 1000 books that I have collected (most of them actually read). She argues, quite sincerely, that I’m not going to read them again, and the ones that I haven’t read in 30 years probably aren’t going to get read at this point. All fair points. But as the waters of the Rubicon begin to turn a little pinkish from the blood of past discussions foaming to the surface, I plan on crossing the river anyway in defense of my books.

What my wife doesn’t understand is that, for better or worse, all of these books represent something to me that will disappear if I stash them, sell them, donate them, or toss them. How do I explain to her that sad, desperately lonely period after my divorce when I had to stash my books in a storage unit because there simply wasn’t room in the places I was living? Doesn’t she understand that when I am sitting writing or reading and I glance up at one of the shelves and spot Professor Organski’s “The War Ledger” that it allows me to ponder that time when I actually think I knew something? Or when I lean back in my chair and spot my collection of John Irving novels that each of them brings back in floods memories of when I actually think I felt something? (And because “Son of Circus” remains unread after four tries, doesn’t she realize that it’s a sobering reminder of how far I have to go before I can say I can tackle any novel?)

I have close to fifty books either about or by Mark Twain that sit directly across from me as I sit and type. I’m not Mark Twain and I never will be. But I will always use him to inspire me to write about injustice and absurdity. And more courageously than him, I will publish everything I write while I’m still alive. There are costs to that, of course, that Twain was not willing to pay. But how many lives might have been saved if “The War Prayer” was published when he wrote it instead of years after his death?

There are books from my father’s collection and from my mother’s collection that I am unlikely to ever read. (Engineering and opera are just not in my wheelhouse, but knowing that these were important to them keeps their memories alive in my little back office.) There are books my children have given me for Christmas or birthdays and while someday they may end up having to take them back, I’d like to hope they would treasure our literary connections long after I’m gone.

This, by the way, is at the heart of Lisa’s argument as to why I should clear out the library now. “Do you really think it’s fair to your kids to have them sort through all this stuff? You know they’ll feel obligated to do something with your books, and you know that’s really a burden they don’t need.” And, as usual, Lisa is right. It is a burden to go through your parents’ possessions after they pass. It’s hard and it’s painful and in my mind, it’s important. (So I guess if my children email me and say “Dad, throw that shit away!” I’ll have to re-think this whole thing.)

Please understand that I totally get Lisa’s desire to downsize. My back already hurts thinking about the 50 boxes and tubs of books that I will have to pack, load, unload, carry upstairs, unpack, sort, and restock. But it’s a glorious pain, and as I dip my toe into the rising and turbulent waters of the Rubicon, I am hoping Lisa’s armies step aside and grant that my sentimental attachment to my intellectual history just might be one thing to love about me (even if she has to shake her head and roll her eyes as I triumphantly pass.)

Tags: ,

3 Comments on “Books have me in a Bind; Charge!”

  1. marypc June 23, 2017 at 11:50 am #

    I’m totally with you! And you’ve just put into words what I feel about all of my books, in a way that I never could have. The Calvary is here to help you!

    As my son-in-law would say, your books are the price of admission your wife has to pay.

    And I say this with all on the love in the world for Lisa!!

  2. Joe Palm June 23, 2017 at 12:19 pm #

    after schlepping boxes and boxes and boxes of books through multiple moves we finally divested in a liber-ating orgy of donating, selling, giving away a decade ago. Unfortunately the succeeding decade has refilled many shelves. Maybe the only cure is a Kindle, but we’re addicted to print.

  3. Marcia Pontoni June 23, 2017 at 2:52 pm #

    Keep the cannoli.


    Sent from my iPhone


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: